With reliability, smart and stylish designs, and loads of efficiency, this is our list of the top 10 used cars under $5,000.
It can be rare, in this stage of late capitalism, to find what can only be called a real good deal. To get a lot of value out of any product usually demands paying a lot. But such is not the case with our list of the top 10 used cars under $5,000. Unlike a lot of products, and especially automobiles, these cars spurned designed obsolescence and were instead built to last, to offer quality over the long haul. But not only are these cars reliable, they’re also stylish, often well-equipped, and supremely practical. For a great deal on a used car, look no further.
The fourth generation of the Lexus ES offers a mix of plentiful luxury options and the brand’s lauded reliability, making it one our go-to recommendations for used cars. The ES shares its platform with the Toyota Camry but adds all manner of amenities that make the ES a real champion of the daily commute. From leather upholstery and heated and cooled seats, to classy California walnut trim and the optional Mark Levinson premium stereo, the Lexus ES absolutely loaded for the money. In 2002, a 3.3L V6 was added alongside the base 3.0L. Even so, the ES was designed as a comfortable highway cruiser, and in that role, it rides as well as cars twenty times as expensive.
Ah, the Honda Fit. Take the name literally, because while other hatchbacks sacrifice rear passenger room to provide the desired cargo space in back, the Honda Fit manages to give amply to both. Yes, you will, perhaps unless you play in the NBA, fit in the Fit. Small stature also plays into the Fit’s efficiency. Its 1.5L four-cylinder engine gets an impressive 28 city and 35 highway mpg. To round out the package, the Fit is decently nimble, its small wheelbase aiding in maneuverability. The Fit’s attractive interior benefits greatly from a spacious greenhouse that lets in light and provides impressive outward visibility. Like many Honda products, the Fit represents the segment benchmark against which all other contenders are measured.
Boxy car lovers rejoice, the Scion xB is here to satisfy your longing for right angles. Thanks to those angles, the Scion xB offers an exceptionally roomy interior with loads of headroom and cargo space in the rear. The funky exterior is echoed by stylized cabin that’s as practical as it is unique. Updated in 2008, the xB runs a 2.4L inline-four making 158 horsepower which provides good motivation for the hatchback. Handling is also surprisingly good and fuel economy comes in at 22 city / 28 highway mpg. For those looking for a solid deal with an original spin, the Scion xB deserves consideration.
What used car list would be complete without Toyota’s best-seller, the Camry? The Camry’s reputation for reliability, quality, and refinement are well earned. Even with well north of 100,000 miles on the odometer, there’s a ton of life left in even 15-year-old Camrys. Options for a 2.4L four-cylinder or a 3.0L or 3.3L V6 mean you can choose your own balance of efficiency and power. The Camry’s interior is well laid out, comfortable, and understated in its styling. Options include leather upholstery, a JBL premium stereo, as well as various safety items like ABS, side-curtain airbags, and vehicle stability control. The Camry has long been a great all-around vehicle and continues to be one of our highest recommendations.
The seventh-generation Honda Accord is another mainstay of budget buy lists, and for good reason. The compact and affordable Accord is reliable, maneuverable, and comfortable. Its greatest strength is having no glaring weaknesses. The Accord was offered in either sedan or coupe body styles. Accord featured either a four-cylinder making 161 horsepower or the attractive alternative of a V6 (borrowed from the Acura TL Type S) making 240 horsepower. Whichever powerplant you decide on, the Accord’s responsive steering and tight handling deliver a surprisingly engaging drive from the unassuming commuter. In all, the Honda Accord offers impressive fuel efficiency, a pleasant drive, and great dependability. What more need you ask of a $5,000 car?
Another great luxury player on a budget, the Acura TSX delivers all the rock-solid engineering of a Honda with some added sophistication. The TSX is built from the same platform as the Accord and possess all of the latter’s strongest attributes but supplements them with greater luxury. The TSX’s interior is where the differences are most apparent. The heated leather power seats are perfect for long distance travel, while the 7-inch touchscreen houses an optional navigation system. Despite the lack of a V6, the TSX’s VTEC four-cylinder provides ample power and is a perfect match for the optional six-speed manual. The tight steering is complimented with lithe handling, making the TSX a great, affordable runabout.
Speaking of drivability, the Scion tC was Toyota’s best-seller for their short-lived youth-oriented brand. The tC was and remains a fun little coupe that offers good styling, great handling, and a decent amount of practicality thanks to its spacious rear hatch. There’s even a premium Pioneer stereo and touch-screen navigation. For a heady mix of reliability and sportiness, the Scion tC is a great option.
The answer may not always actually be the Miata, but sometimes, it is. In the case of a solid and sporty buy for $5,000, it’s hard to match the NB generation MX-5. The legendary balance and lightness easily overcome the small 1.8L engine and prove you don’t need a ton of power to have a ton of fun. The popularity of the Miata has spawned a devoted aftermarket, so parts and maintenance advice should be easy to come by. This generation is known for thrust-bearing issues, but given their age, most examples will have had this addressed. Just make sure to double check prior to purchase.
The Scion xB isn’t the only boxy hatchback/crossover on our list. The Kia Soul is arguably even funkier in attitude and just a good a bargain. Here too, the rectilinear design makes for a spacious cabin even for taller drivers. The 1.6L is decently powerful and comes with your choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. The short wheelbase and snubbed front end make the Soul highly maneuverable in tight spaces. The Soul’s interior offers comfortable seats, a forward-looking design that still holds up ten years later, and ambient lighting that pulses with the stereo. The Kia Soul is the perfect blend of quirky styling and sober practicality.
In many ways, the Honda Civic is the David that slew the Goliath of oversized American sedans. By the mid-aughts, it was clear the Civic, with its split personality of a slick coupe or buttoned-down sedan, had something to offer for nearly every buyer. The base engine in the Civic is a 1.8L four-cylinder making 140 horsepower. For greater efficiency, the hybrid Civic pairs a 1.3L engine with an electric motor to achieve 40 highway mpg. The Civic Si comes with a 2.0L VTEC engine and stiffer suspension for improved handling. Regardless of powertrain, the Honda Civic’s interior is practical mix of smart ergonomics and high-quality materials. Options in the eight-generation Honda Civic include voice-activated navigation, a power moonroof, and leather upholstery. Whether in coupe or sedan form, the Honda Civic delivers the goods for a solid buy at $5,000.